Tuesday, September 2, 2014

Watch the Dusk Sky for Common Nighthawks

The peak time for viewing the common nighthawk migration is right now. I have already seen reports of these birds passing over people’s houses and thru the uptown Charlotte area. It’s easy to try to see them and it takes only a few minutes each evening.
Common nighthawks usually are seen from about 7:30 PM thru about 8:15 PM in the evenings, with the peak being about 7:45 PM. All you have to do is step outside and look up. If it is an active migratory night and the birds are in your area, you should see them. A vantage point that gives a wide view of the dusk sky is best.  Sometimes it will be just a couple of birds that you see, but there is potential to see congregations of dozens of birds. Such numbers used to be commonly seen but the common nighthawk is a declining species in the eastern United States, so the migration count numbers are lower now.  I used to see loose flights of over fifty birds in Mecklenburg County but it has been a while since I have seen that high a number. It is more realistic to expect to see a half dozen to a dozen birds nowadays.
Nighthawks are about the size of an American kestrel but their long, slim, pointed wings make the birds appear larger than they really are. Look for a white bar on the underside of the wings near the wingtips to clinch the identification. They will be flying in stiff-winged manner with a few twists and turns mixed in. They are not hawks at all either. They are members of the goatsucker clan, same as the whip-poor-will and chuck-will’s-widow. They hawk large flying insects while on the wing. Traditionally they nested on flat ground with sparse grass, and still do over much of their range. In the populous eastern United States they have adapted well to cities however and now are fond of using flat gravel roofs of buildings, especially in urban areas where city lights attract large moths and beetles.

There are relatively few species of birds where one can actually view their migration so take advantage of this opportunity to see an interesting and declining species.

Common Nighthawk by Don Faulkner